My Photo


Books by the bed

Books I'm listening to in the car

  • Sena Jeter Naslund: Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette (P.S.)

    Sena Jeter Naslund: Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette (P.S.)
    I don't like historical fiction. I have very little interest in the French monarchy. But Sena Jeter Nashland, whose first novel could not've been more different, is a brilliant writer, and has me utterly pulled into this world, time, and place, and given me sympathy towards a person to whom I had none. A novel like this reminds me of why I fall in love with fiction, over and over again. Transporting, tragic, and deeply fascinating. (****)

  • Markus Zusak: I Am the Messenger

    Markus Zusak: I Am the Messenger

  • L.A. Meyer: Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary 'Jacky' Faber, Ship's Boy (Bloody Jack Adventures)

    L.A. Meyer: Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary 'Jacky' Faber, Ship's Boy (Bloody Jack Adventures)

  • Robert Mnookin: Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight

    Robert Mnookin: Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight

  • Curtis Sittenfeld: American Wife: A Novel

    Curtis Sittenfeld: American Wife: A Novel
    Alice Lindgren Blackwell's normal-enough middle-class Wisconsin life goes through the windshield twice, once quickly and literally (a car wreck when she is in her early teens, in which she kills the young man who just may have been the love of her life) and once very slowly, and for a long, long time (when she marries Charlie, a super-wealthy, basically incompetent charmer with fierce political ambitions, who ends up --- somewhat to everyone's surprise --- in the White House). An imagining of a life loosely based on Laura Bush's, Sittenfield's writing is unshow-offy, as unobtrusive and accommodating as her careful protagonist, who tries to walk the impossible line of being "good wife" to a public figure with whose actions, public and private, she does not always agree, and cleaving to her own conscience, which may have gotten lost somewhere along the way. The book is inhabited by carefully drawn, detailed, dimensional characters: Alice's off-again-on-again best friend, her wise, quietly lesbian grandmother, the members of the dynasty into which she has married. An endless war, a weak wealthy husband saved from being a total wash-up by the embrace of a Christianity Alice herself does not understand, a bereaved parent whose son has died in the war, who attempts to meet the president ... all these echo the tragedy of the Bush years from an imagined perspective. Yet finally the novel rings true not because of this echo, but because Sittenfeld has created characters and a plot as complex, flawed, and mysterious as life itself. (****)

  • Nora Ephron: I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections (Vintage)

    Nora Ephron: I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections (Vintage)
    The wry, funny Nora Ephron, in her own words. She forgot more than many of us knew. Highly entertaining, and makes me grieve her recent death even more. (***)

Books in my (culinary) office

  • Mary Donovan: The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook: A Collection of Favourite Receipts from Thirteen Exemplary Eighteenth-Century Cooks With Proper Menus for Simple Fare
    Early American recipes and lots of good quotes from period source material, this is just the kind of thing that fascinates me. (***)
  • Kevin Young: The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink

    Kevin Young: The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink

  • Michael Natkin: Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes

    Michael Natkin: Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes

  • Ben Hewitt: The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food

    Ben Hewitt: The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food
    Hewitt raises more questions and hypotheses than he answer... one has the sense that he was grappling with issues that were too large for him, and the subject of the book, the food-centric (sort of) hardscrabble town of Hardwick, Vermont. I got frustrated with his asides and a certain precious town that occasionally crept in, but I couldn't help but find it enthralling. He tries to make peace with the fact that environmentally sound, home gardening, and incremental agricultural semi-self-sufficiency may be elitist and nay not be economically sustainable. But that our present-day food system is also frighteningly fragile and unhealthful in any way, and simply would work unsubsidized: 1 single fast-food mega-ag calorie on the plate takes an average of ***95*** calories of fossil fuel to get from seed to plate. A gardener himself, Ben Hewitt writes: "The scale on which my family and I grow food is arguably inefficient, in terms of economics, efficiency, and land use. We don't utilize chemical fertilizers, synthetic weed and pest control, or genetically modified seed; these things could probably boost production in the short run, but then, we don't farm for the short run. "I can buy a fine potato from any number of local farmers, but (not) the May afternoon I spent w/ Penny in the garden, sticking our hands deep into the cool soil. I can buy a head of lettuce, but (not) the pleasure & pride of my boys returning from the garden w/ a basket of greens & saying 'We picked it ourselves, Papa.' " And, in this Monsanto-fast food-fake-food world... being willing and able to feed yourself, even partially is a true "Occupy" act. Hewitt quotes a farmer named Eliot Coleman: "Small farmers are the last bastion protecting society from corporate industry. When we feed ourselves, we become unconquerable." I wish this book had been better edited: someone needed to keep Hewitt more on track and focused, with fewer asides. He needed to be less anecdotal and more fact-based, or more anecdotal and... Well. Still very much worth a read. (***)

  • Ayun Halliday: Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste
    A feisty memoiristic series of vignettes, from growing up in Indiana and aspiring to Betty Crocker Enchanted Castle cakes with a mom who aspired to Julia Child and a fried-chicken-and-mashed-potato cooking grandmother to the author's own "postcoital breakfasts", labor, deliveries, and childrearing (one picky eater, one not). Categorized on the jacket as "FOOD / HUMOR" it is both, sort of. A recipe, written slap-dash but followable, and certainly with personal, um, zest, follows each chapter. It kept me somewhat amused; it kept me reading; and it did warn "questionable taste." The latter was over-the-top for me; a combination of TMI, reliance on gross-out, and a few too many gratuitous 'fucks' crossed the just-have-to-drop-the-#-of-stars line. Ayun's a good writer; a little less smart-assiness and a little more depth to the revelations, and I could be done for the cause with her. (**)

Books in my (writing/creativity/teaching) office

Charlotte, Aunt Dot & me

  • Cz_laughing_happy
    An elderly mother, her even older sister, their middle-aged daughter/niece ... and a small sheep.

National Cornbread Festival

  • Fashion to a T
    The apogee of all experiences for the true cornbread lover is the National Cornbread Festival, held annually the last full weekend of April in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

Twitter Updates (yes, God help me)

    follow me on Twitter

    « transparency, part 2: a little madness in the spring | Main | A few quick post-Mother's Day P.S.'s, re writing »

    May 10, 2008


    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

    Suzette Haden Elgin

    That's absolutely splendid; thank you for posting it.

    Suzette Haden Elgin

    That's absolutely splendid; thank you for posting it.

    Suzette Haden Elgin

    That's absolutely splendid; thank you for posting it.

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Thank you, Suzette, thank you! (And thank you Sherry, who wrote me a beautiful email about this piece)... and now a dark truth must be told! I sat down a little late-ish to write what I thought would be a few lines: I was still tapping away when the sun came up! (And beautiful it was, too. I actually went on a walk, and sat and watched two visiting mallards glide back and forth, so seemingly serenely, before I napped.) THANK YOU for this good wake-up!

    Pat Schneider

    Crescent, dear -- that is a magnificent poem, and as Minnie Pearl was fond of saying, "I'm jist as proud to be here!" on your blog, and a couple of stone's throw from your house to mine, and in this beautiful springtime world at the same time as you. Charlotte is one lucky mama. Reading your work always makes me want to write, Crescent - what greater compliment can one writer give another? -- Love, Pat


    I'm overjoyed to learn about your new blog and just floored by how you have shared here about your love and acceptance for your mother.

    Right now I am baking some ciabatta bread to bring to my mother tomorrow. This simple act -- of bringing bread to my mother -- feels leaden, weighed down by decades of judgement. Yet, in this loaf of bread, I hope their will be lightness and big empty pockets in the texture of the loaf to hold whatever it is that *she* wants for *herself* (jam, hummus, butter, cheese).

    All day long I have wished for some way to reconcile the dread and longing I feel about bringing this to her. Your post here brought me closer to acceptance.

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Pat --- that surely is THE compliment (that it makes you want to write). We have done good things for and with each other, despite our very different, very long odds, and I say... YAY US!

    Cathy --- I just go back to "nothing is wasted on the writer." There are so many unpleasant feelings, like dread, that there is no way around, only through, over and over again, never knowing how or if it's going to come out. I don't know any way not to feel them; certainly it makes perfect sense to in some circumstances. But the thing is: how can we use them? For self-understanding, or growth, or developing compassion in the world, starting with compassion towards ourselves? If you see the dread, that means there is part of you that is seeing, that is not lost in it, and maybe you can take refuge in that part, and have your feeling yet not let them have you... not let them run the show. It's hard! Relationship School, as I called it here and have called it for some years... none of us ever graduate, as far as I can tell. BUT! If we use those feelings in some way than the pain is not a waste.

    Mother-daughter stuff just takes awhile, Like, forever.


    Reading this, I wonder if all mothers and daughters have the same type of relationship. My mother and I, too, seem to have the love-hate thing down pat.

    Today, when I stopped in to see her with a framed photo of the 7 grandchildren I provided her, I expected less of a reaction from her than I received. Not that she doesn't love my gifts, but she can be SO "blah" about them, leaving me guessing all the time whether she liked the gift or not.

    Today, though, she looked so much older to me, so frail and needy, and she adored the photo. She didn't have a card for me, or a gift, but she pulled 3 of the prettiest roses from the bouquet my brother had given her and sent me home with them. And you know what? That was OK -- it really was OK. I put them in a vase and think they are the perfect Mother's Day gift -- even if it wasn't meant to be that.

    Terry Thornton


    You've moved me to tears with you loving tribute to your mother and to yourself. That you never gave up on the relationship is, to me, what speaks loudest in your wonderful essay full of poetry, tears, and powerful recollections.

    My mother lost all her memories --- and the saddest question I was ever asked was her "Where was I when you were growing up?" But as she sank deeper and deeper into into that long dark night, her love for me was still shining through.

    And I'm so glad that your love and that of your mother is still being expressed, sent and received, felt and appreciated, nurtured and uplifting.

    Terry Thornton
    Fulton, Mississippi


    hi -- i found out about your blog c/o peter sieruta's, and i am delighted to see it! thank you so much for this particular entry.

    sharyn november
    (yes, my given name, which might amuse you)

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Anne and Terry --- thank you both so much. Anne, I think some of the tension/love/hate/hurt/pain IS inherent in the mother daughter relationship, as witness these bits of folk wisdom: "A son is a son until he takes a wife / a daughter's a daughter for the rest of her life." (an old saying, don't know its origins) and this little poem, which my mother used to quote me:
    "'Mother may I go out to swim?' 'Yes, my darling daughter. Hang your clothes on a hickory limb, but don't go near the water.'"
    I think maybe the relationship is TOO close, so fraught with potential pitfalls of expectation, living vicariously, etc, that there just can't help, in most cases, but be conflict. But like you, when we see our mothers "old, frail, and needy," in some mysterious way we get the chance to do things different... to, if you'll forgive me, "Do unto mother as we perhaps would have liked her to do unto us." At any rate, the possibility of healing is there.

    Terry, oh, I did, in my heart, many times give up, in the sense that it just felt hopeless. But as you know, you just hang in there --- I mean, she's your MOTHER for God's sake! --- and then sometimes, life, time, and love just give you grace, an unexpected release and freedom.

    I actually see "Where was I when you were growing up?" in a different way, maybe not so sad (if one can accept the nature of change and identity, not that that's easy.) The "I" that your mama was when she asked you that question was not the same "I" that she was when you WERE growing up. Just as that little-boy Terry is gone, vanished forever except in memory (which as we know is also so fleeting) so is, or was, at the time she asked, the young woman who mothered that little boy. This human stuff is so mysterious... one of these days I will post a poem I wrote recently called "What Actually Happened" , which is my current working hypothesis of, let's say, how things are.


    Oh! And your "almost-famous" mother? Quite, quite famous in a household of seven children! "The Seashore Book" has been one of our favorites for quite some time; read and re-read and loved until the binding is rubbed white - like any favorite book.

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Semi-famous in the celebrity-crazed world as a whole... in HER world she's definitely right up there. I told her abt your family's love of THE SEASHORE BOOK and she said,genuinely pleased, "How NICE!"


    Oh I wish those mother daughter relationships were easier. My own mother, an award winning poet, once wrote a poem about not wanting to be a mother... how poetry was her child. Oh the dicey words of an eccentric mother.

    And still... you can find the love in your mother and say glowing things. You have grown in ways I can only hope.

    Love to you from Eureka Springs!

    Crescent Dragonwagon

    Oh, Jackie, what a sweet surprise to find your cyber-smooch blown up north! I had no idea you also had mama-drama around literature. (Of course, everyone, almost, as mama-drama in some way... mother-daughter just seems to be an inherently fraught relationship. One course in Relationship School NObody gets to skip, and often, we just have to take over and over and over.) Interestingly, many children's book writers and editors (like Margaret Wise Brown and Ursula Nordstrum, to name two well-known ones) chose not to have children; I too, don't have kids, because, as I always say and believe fervently "Parenthood is the hardest gig." (I do however have adopted nephews and nieces... I'm following Louis and Elsie Freund, my role models in so many ways, in this).

    Thank you for your kind words about what looks to you like my growth (and I hope you are right --- but how can one really tell about oneself? My late father used to say, "We're always comparing our INsides with other peoples OUTsides, and it's never a fair or reasonable comparison." ).

    I sometimes think of humanity as this long, long, infinitely long line of people, and everyone, whatever their position, has one hand stretched down to give to the person who's maybe a thousandth of an inch less less developed then them... and one hand stretched up, to receive, from the soul is is maybe one-thousandth of an inch further along.

    I send love yo you and my UU pals in Eureka, and wish you courage on your own journey. xxxooo

    Martha Woodhouse

    Crescent - It is 2pm and I am so moved by your writings...It is interesting to catch glimpses of your life this way. And, funny how our lives have circled around each other in so many ways, but hardly knowing each other at all. I have stopped in to see your mom, my Aunt Charlotte on many occasions over the years...but I have not seen her recently. Two dear friends of mine have passed away this year. Both over 80 and both rather suddenly. Dementia is so hard to experience with those you love, the poem "Calculations" pretty much sums it up. Try to call me sometime when you are in the New York, Westchester, NYC area...I would love to see you and have lunch. I still live in Nyack after all these years. I am Retired from Education and a Real Estate Broker...The last few years I spent traveling between here and Maine. Now I am busy going to Oklahoma City. Next may be Tennesee or New Orleans...My children are on the move, so I visit them when I can. By the way, you can find me on Facebook...Twitter I do not really utilize. Just in case (845)667-4511.

    The comments to this entry are closed.